Wataru Endo: A Liverpool Cult Hero In The Making?
By Gareth Roberts
I WASN’T the only one to pull a face, shrug a shoulder or doubt things aloud when Wataru Endo replaced Ryan Gravenberch as Liverpool tried to save something against Fulham.
After all, the player taking to the field on 83 minutes had a record of 15 goals in 133 games for Stuttgart. He was brought in to make sure the back door is locked as everyone runs amok ahead of him, not bang one in from 20 yards to begin another famous L4 comeback.
And yet the man from Japan scored that goal at Anfield in that win over Fulham and now has two to his name already in his fledgling Liverpool career. What a belter, and what a moment.
It’s a scintilla of stardust that could change the rhetoric around the No.3. And perhaps he could be another to join the long list of cult heroes at the club.
Endo, if we’re all being realistic here, is unlikely to be a regular starter in the league when everyone is fit. He’s only started three games in the Premier League so far among his 17 appearances for The Reds.
There’s five Europa League starts, two League Cup starts, and seven substitute cameos in the league - including that significant one against Fulham.
He was also, again if we're being honest, a bit of a break glass buy. Never the top target, or even close, Liverpool lurched from a potential £111 million transfer record for Moisés Caicedo to relative buttons for Endo, who was more a ‘that’ll do in the circumstances’.
The fact Jurgen Klopp was caught on camera saying to him “we really need you” perfectly captured the mood after the DMs that got away during the last transfer window.
Many were unconvinced. Yet already there’s that not always tangible feeling that he’s got that cult hero stamp written through him like a bar of Blackpool rock.
Some, I’m sure, will say it’s unfair or disrespectful to label him as such. They will point out he’s a Japanese international, that he’s been knocking around in the Bundesliga, that he’s played in a World Cup.
But it’s not meant to be disrespectful, not even close. Plenty have pulled on the red shirt, knocked around for a bit, and left again without there being even an air of suggestion of any kind of cult status.
Cult hero can mean many things. Different things to different people, even. But it’s ultimately grounded in respect and fondness.
I’m still in football mourning for Divock Origi. I loved that fella. On the one hand a sixth-choice striker, a forward that scored 41 goals in 175 appearances across eight years. On the other…well, where to start. The Champions League final, probably.
Then there’s Barcelona. Then there’s the funniest goal you’ll ever see. Dortmund, Wolves, Everton again and again, the mad one at Preston… Cult hero? Cult legend? Is that a thing? If it is, Origi is it.
And who else have we liked and loved for those more cultish moments? Igor Biscan looked like he’d just got out of bed most of the time and ‘little Igor’ even made an appearance once upon a time while he was donning a red shirt.
But as the flag in Istanbul made by none other than Paul Cope testified: “Super Croat Igor Biscan Used To Be Atrocious.” From unconvincing midfielder, to makeshift centre half and back again, Biscan unexpectedly ended up playing a key role on the road to European Cup No.5, starting, and sometimes starring, against Deportivo, Monaco, Leverkusen, Juventus and Chelsea en route to Turkey.
Ronnie Rosenthal never scored more than seven in a season for The Reds’ first team but is credited with helping Liverpool to title number 18, and threw in a last-minute winner against Everton in front of The Kop for good measure.
His song was boomed out many times with love and feeling.
Titi Camara only played 37 times for The Reds, scoring 10 goals. But his maverick nature, his box of tricks, the quality of some of his strikes and playing, and scoring, despite losing his dad shortly before a match mean – like Ronnie – he is firmly in the cult bracket.
I could go on, and have before, about cult heroes. Much will depend on how long you’ve watched The Reds for, or how readily you’re handing out the badge.
I’ve seen Ragnar Klavan and Nat Phillips bracketed as such. Older heads will always go for Joey Jones. Erik Meijer might get a shout or David Fairclough. And on we go.
How about Sotirios Kyrgiakos? Andrea Dossena?
By now though, the picture is clear. Cult heroes are loved, liked and labelled because they come from left-field. They’re a bit different. An unlikely champion. A man of the hour. A warrior, a lionheart, or someone who just pops up in the right place at the right time. Perhaps they are written off, but then bounce back. Perhaps they just win people over by sheer force of will.
Endo could be all of those things and more. And that goal in front of The Kop was certainly a good start. Next time he comes off the bench I'll keep my opinions to myself...